Whisky Advocate

A bourbon from Virginia…and Kentucky (sort of)

October 20th, 2011

Truman Cox has moved from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky to replace retiring Master Distiller Joe Dangler at the A. Smith Bowman (ASB) distillery in Virginia, and he’s wasting no time. This just came in yesterday. (See picture.) It a limited edition bottling under the Abraham Bowman label, barrel proof (69.3%), and over 18 years old.

The whiskey itself also has ties to Buffalo Trace. It was actually distilled at Buffalo Trace, but then spent most of its life maturing in Virginia at the ASB distillery. This was explained to me in the press release that came with the bottle.

I’m pleased to see this distillery reinventing itself, even if in an unusual way. As Truman puts it: “ASB is coming at the micro-distilling level from a completely unique position. While other micros are starting from the ground-up and growing, ASB is redirecting from a large producer to a microdistillery.”

He continues: “While historically a full-scale producer and rectifier with large distribution, we are refocusing our footprint, home place, and marketing efforts at regional levels and practicing the flexibility and innovation that the microdistilling community is known for. We do not hide the fact that we purchase our starting material and source some whiskey from larger distilleries; other microdistilleries do this as well. We do our own distillation for our core whiskey. ASB has the fortunate luxury to source multiple starting distillates, which we will be blending before our distillation for future batches. This will allow us to compose an entirely new starting material to feed our still to come up with a whiskey distinctive to the distilling world.”

He goes on to say that this particular bottling came from Buffalo Trace, but continues by saying “However it has spent the better part of its barreled life aging in ASB’s distinctive warehouse. Since most whiskey men agree that the barrel and aging is where the predominant flavors come from, I believe we are offering an exception bourbon with a rare look at geographical distinction.”

Having just tasted the whiskey, I can say that I like the whiskey a lot. There’s no excessive oak, which I feared there might be for an 18 year old bourbon. It’s nicely balanced and flavorful.

I do not, however, envy Truman and the rest of the team at ASB when it comes to explaining in the future where their whiskies were distilled (or re-distilled), aged and bottled if they truly plan on being open and transparent about the source of their distillate (which doesn’t seem to be the case with this bottle–there’s no mention of it being distilled in Kentucky).  To begin with, the vast majority of the general public thinks that bourbon is only made in Kentucky. And from what I am gathering here, some of the ASB releases down the road could be distilled in Kentucky, Kentucky and Virginia, or only Virginia before being matured in Virginia. (I’ll try to get Truman to clarify or confirm this.)

Good luck with that, because it won’t be easy.

25 Responses to “A bourbon from Virginia…and Kentucky (sort of)”

  1. My confusion came from an old book I have, Jim Murray’s Complete Book of Whisky (published around 1997), which says Virginia Gentlemen is distilled twice at BT, then a third time in Virginia. This book was written around 15 years ago and things do change. I agree with JH that the labeling of this whisky doesn’t reduce any confusion, now that it has been clarified that this bottling was NOT redistilled but “only” matured in Virginia (opposed to the core whiskey of A. Smith Bowman). How different whiskey matures in two different geographic locations is always up for arguments. I don’t know how much difference the enviroments of Virginia and Kentucky will make on a bourbon. I do know that whisky made in India, Amrut, matures quite different. But I also know that Islay whiskies matured on the scottish mainland are hard to tell from Islay matured Islays, if not impossible.

    Steffen

  2. bgulien says:

    I always hope these whiskies will be exported to Europe. I think we miss out of a lot of nice whiskies, especially American.
    Today I bought a recently imported John B. Stetson, and I found it a very nice Bourbon.
    Hope to see ASB on the shelves here in the Netherlands.

  3. Here’s an analogy. What if Bladnoch started bottling casks of Highland Park as Bladnoch, with the argument it has spent the majority of its maturation time in Galloway, at the same time they also bottle Bladnoch, made in Bladnoch, as Bladnoch

    I wish America had stricter laws when it comes to labeling it’s whiskey. The fact that a distillery name can go on a label of whisky made elsewhere has confused people before (High West)

    Steffen

    • Jason Pyle says:

      Steffen, respectfully, I don’t feel they are misleading here. I believe that mostly because they are under the Sazarac brand, which owns Buffalo Trace (BT). I consider them sister distilleries for a lack of better term. ASB doesn’t advertise where they get the first distillation, but I don’t view it as misleading mostly because they are putting it through another distillation and aging it on premises. Seems fairly above board to me. But that may just be me.

      As an example, it’s not totally different from Brown Forman and Woodford Reserve. Brown Forman distills bourbon at their Louisville distillery an then brings “honey” barrels to Woodford Reserve for further aging. They also distill some at Woodford and then bring it back to their Louisville’s aging facility. It’s a swap to align with their brands. They don’t advertise that and that also is not misleading to me.

      • I would assume a whiskey labeled “Virginia (Limited Edition) Whisky” and “Product of Virginia” was distilled in Virginia, but maybe that’s just me. If I had stumbled upon this on a holiday in USA and used my 1liter allowance for this bottle, I would have felt mighty cheated getting home and reading this

        Steffen

        Luckily I bought three bottles of High West from Utah instead

  4. Bob Siddoway says:

    Any ideas on price yet, John?

    You can’t beat an 18 year-old barrel-proof bourbon! I’m really glad to see another barrel-proof bottling. I need to track down a bottle or two of this…

  5. Jason Pyle says:

    John, I am looking forward to tasting this one. Having recently tasted one of their Barrel Strength Rye’s, it’s in the league of Thomas H. Handy of the Antique Collection. So I have high expectations for this.

  6. M Lange says:

    I agree that it will be difficult in the future to explain exactly what the origin of each specific bottling is, but I admire them for being open and transparent from the get go as to their process. I have never had Virginia Gentlemen nor any other ASB product but I look forward to trying some in the future.

  7. David D says:

    I would love to be there to hear anyone explain to a customer how a whisky distilled in the Highlands, but aged on Islay is somehow an Islay whisky. You can say what ever you want about maritime climate, but even people who know about whisky don’t put too much value in where a whisky was aged.

  8. John Hansell says:

    Some additional information from Truman: The Core Whiskies like our John J single Barrel, Bowman Brother small batch, and Virginia Gentleman are distilled a third time at ASB. Abraham Bowman limited edition will be from a multitude of sources and different treatments and will eventually have some of the experiments we are already starting at ASB.

    Thanks Truman!

  9. Greg says:

    I’ll be visiting with Truman next week at Bowman and plan on picking up some of these bottles. During lunch I hope to pick his brain on future plans for Bowman playing in the micro world.

  10. Mary says:

    I was just in KY (bourbon Trail & everything bourbon for 10 days!)…..I found a bottle of the Bowman Rye at a little liquor store & was thrilled because I had emailed Mr. Cox & he said it wasn’t being distributed outside VA (except for that special barrel at the “Party Source”). Haven’t opened it yet but I’m really looking forward to it.

    I do think we need legislation that requires distillers/bottlers to tell us where it was distilled/aged – I don’t really care where it was bottled. I just find it misleading but of course it all comes down to how the good the whiskey is…..High West Rendezvous is one of my all-time favorite whiskeys & yes they say on the label (in the marketing flannel….) that it’s “found back east” but it would be good for the consumer if it stated distilled/aged in IN (or wherever) in the same spot on every bottle of whiskey. The Scots have made it a rule & are following an “appellation” labeling method…I think that’s the way to go. It’s done for wine – why not whiskey?

  11. Ricardo says:

    John,
    What do you think about Old Pulteney 21YO getting World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2012? He scored it 97.5 pts out of 100 which is a whopping score. If I remember correctly you scored the same whisky with an 82/100. A slight discrepancy or perhaps different bottlings?
    Anyway, interested to hear your take on this.

    • anorak77 says:

      Old Pulteney 21 is not worth 97.5/100. Murray has imbibed too many whiskies over the years and his ego has only gotten the worse for it. He’s a twit and I would never take his ratings seriously.

      On a side note, JH’s rating of 96 / 100 for the Ardbeg Corryvreckan is just plain silly as well. A point higher than a 1970s vintage Ardbeg in the buying guide.

      • John Hansell says:

        Anorak, this blog has an ethics policy. Say what you want about a whisky or ratings. You can even disagree with any of my ratings.I’m a big boy and can take it. BUT, and this is a big BUT: I will not tolerate your attacking someone’s character. No name calling!! You should know better than that. This is a civilized blog. Take your name calling somewhere else. You’ve been warned. Don’t force me to ban you.

        And stay on topic too, please. Thank you.

  12. Greg says:

    Spent the day at Bowman on Saturday and enjoyed the afternoon with Truman Cox. He was gracious enough to give our group a tour of the distillery and sample this recent 18 year release. It’s a terrific bourbon and very sweet on the entry. Moderate heat about mid palate. I have yet to cut it so we’ll see how it handles water but at barrel strength, it’s very drinkable.

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